Social media: Is it time to break up Facebook?
“It’s time to break up Facebook,” said Chris Hughes in The New York Times. “It’s been 15 years since I co-founded Facebook at Harvard” with Mark Zuckerberg, and a decade since I left the company. In that time, Mark’s power has become “unprecedented and un-American” and his company a “leviathan that crowds out entrepreneurship and restricts consumer choice.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren has advocated for policies that would bust up Big Tech, and I’m joining the growing chorus calling for the government to step in. Mark’s “focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks.” Most worrisome is the control he exerts over the algorithms that determine what gets displayed on the News Feed: “There is no precedent for his ability to monitor, organize, and even censor the conversations of 2 billion people.” The government needs to unwind the mergers of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp before they become too intertwined.
Rooting for Facebook is like rooting for the New England Patriots, said Shira Ovide in Bloomberg.com. “But I worry that ‘Break up Facebook’ has become a catchall.” We need to better understand the root problems and prescribe appropriate fixes “before we all back a Standard Oil–style dismantlement” of the tech giants. The argument that Facebook, for instance, can squash all rivals doesn’t really hold true: Facebook missed the popularity of Snapchat and TikTok, while Apple and Google “remain the front doors to smartphones.” Breaking up Facebook would just create “fiercer wars for our attention and data,” said Ezra Klein in Vox.com. The problem is not that “Facebook is blocking competition in its sector.” It’s that the social networks compete to capture our attention and data with addictive algorithms and toxic content. Breaking up Facebook doesn’t solve the real issue: The “incentives that shaped Facebook—and Instagram, and Twitter, and Snapchat, and YouTube—lead to dangerous products.”
Sure, everyone is disappointed with Facebook, said Nick Gillespie in Reason.com. That’s how things go with new technologies. First, the utopian stage, “when we’re all jazzed up about the possibilities of a new innovation.” Next, the dystopian period, “when we attribute all our ills to the new thing—TV, or the web, or social media.” Last comes the stage “when we put the technology in its proper place.” With social media, “we’re clearly in the second phase and almost certainly heading to the third.” We’re all growing tired of how much these sites demand our attention. But the idea that government will do a better job of fixing what’s wrong with them is “risible.” Many of Facebook’s users have already found a way to battle all-powerful Zuckerberg and his “unstoppable” Death Star: They’re “simply walking away.” ■